Keiichirō Hirano: Of the Strange and the Spirits (Part 2)
By Quek See Ling
Continued from Keiichirō Hirano: Of the Strange and the Spirits (Part 1)
Praised by the professors as a “scholarly novelist” possessing “encyclopaedic writing ability”, Keiichirō Hirano’s world view is both diachronic and synchronic. He stated incisively that Japan’s Meiji Restoration was supposedly a process of learning from the West, but “proved to be superficial as humanist thinking was ignored”. He predicted: “The development of capitalism eventually leads to egoism… Inventions made in the name of scientific advancement are actually irrational, motivated by a desire to become gods.”
Bringing Kaidan Culture Back to Literary Fiction
Mao Jian noted that, unlike in its birthplace of China, kaidan culture continues to thrive in Japan where anything from the wall to the cupboard can be a demon, spirit or monster. In particular, she appreciates Hirano’s “wild” and active approach to kaidan literature, engaging in a dialogue with mainstream culture: “Connecting minute things to Japanese traditions, yet transcending the latter, and providing a familiar yet uncanny experience.” Hirano humbly denied having such talent, especially when compared to preceding Japanese kaidan writers, like Shigeru Mizuki (renowned manga author and creator of the GeGeGe no Kitarō comics), and Kunio Yanagita (the father of Japanese native folkloristics). He also pointed out that post-war Japan saw much literature describing the spirits of deceased soldiers, and that the biggest difference between monsters (yōkai) and spirits (yūrei) is that monsters originate from nature and the spirits originate from humans, which resonates with Buddhist ideas of reincarnation.
“To truly experience living, you cannot expect a life where results are based just on diligence… Blood, if not boiling, will immediately stagnate, discolour, and coagulate. The body, if not pushed to its limit, will be swallowed into the depths of burnout.” Just by reading this excerpt from Tale of the First Moon, one can deeply feel Hirano’s “speculative passion”, and see how the classical atmosphere of his works is infused with contemporary sensibilities to impart enduring meaning. Hirano stands on the vast plain of literature, wild at heart in the pursuit of beauty, his work breaking new ground and shimmering in the dual colours of literature and philosophy.
(Translated by Daryl Li)
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